Orhan Pamuk: ‘There is no more freedom of opinion in Turkey!

Now, it is Ahmet Altan and Mehmet Altan’s turn.

One after another, every democrat in Turkey who dissent, is locked up in jail.

Everything in Turkey, these days, takes place out in the open.

The post-coup crackdown has been widening geometrically, by every new sanction and measure strengthening the view that what takes place, in reality, is a counter-coup, is being demonstrated, ‘in your face’ manner, to the most prominent European political actors.


Already deeply traumatized by the immense purge that encompasses tens of thousands of state employees (now also including 11.285 teachers of Kurdish origin), with thousands of academics – many of them seculars and leftists – fired arbitrarily, Turkey nightmare this Saturday morning, once more, woke up to a new episode of a two more significant arrests added to the number of 117 journalists in prison – a world record already.

The state-run Anadolu news agency reported that veteran journalist and writer Ahmet Altan and his brother, Professor Mehmet Altan, were detained early in the morning by Istanbul anti-terror police units. The Dogan news agency said they were detained in the investigation into the July 15 coup, which Ankara blames on the US-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen. The Hurriyet daily said that the Altan brothers were investigated over remarks in a talk show on the Can Erzincan TV channel on July 14, on the eve of the coup.

Ahmet Altan, a prominent intellectual figure in Turkey, was for years a columnist with top dailies like Hurriyet and Milliyet before in 2007 co-founding the opposition daily Taraf. He resigned as Taraf editor-in-chief in 2012, when the political pressure on its proprşetors had become unbearable.

Winner of the prestigious Leipzig Media Award in 2009, he is also one of Turkey’s most popular literary figures; a best-selling writer of nine novels.

Mehmet Altan, his younger brother, an economist and political thinker, is the author of several books on Turkish politics, and a widely-read newspaper columnist over three decades.

The brothers belong to the liberal flank of Turkish intelligentsia, for years struggling for reform, and a democratic order.

Their arrest marks a sharp escalation and asserts a symbolique over how deep the crackdown has advanced.

The accusations are Kafkaesque, or rather, Orwellian. The public prsoecutor of the terror and organized crime unit in Istanbul claim that the brothers, appearing days before the coup attempt at a now shuttered TV channel, hosted by a veteran female journalist, Nazlı Ilıcak (also in detention for over a month) ‘delivered subliminal messages that are associated with the coup.’

‘It is impossible that they do not know of the coup attempt days before without a cooperation with the terror organisation (‘FETO’). Therefore did the accused act in unison with the officers and soldiers by attempting a coup’ the prosecutor said.

So, the overall mood in Turkey come as far as to introduce the word ‘subliminal’ in legal context. Ongoing emergency rule, it seems, has enhanced the imagination of those who accuse, and limit even further the safety of those who insist on the democratic value of free speech.

Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk issued the following statement, over the arrests and beyond, today:

‘I reprove, and condemn, the arrests of Ahmet and Mehmet Altan. Everybody who even a little criticize the government is now being locked in jail with a pretext, accompanied by feelings of grudge and intidimidation, rather than applying law.

There is no more freedom of opinion in Turkey!

We turn swiftly into a state of fear, moving away from democracy. Aslı Erdoğan, Nazlı Ilıcak, Nuriye Akman, Necmiye Alpay and Şahin Alpay are, just like Ahmet Altan and Mehmet Altan, are well-known and much loved writers, whose opinions awake curiousity of our people. All of the writers must be released; and if they must, all must be tried on free foot.

I am furious and sad of the state my country finds itself in. You can all be certain that these insenstive, ruthless measures expose a Turkey as awful to the entire world.’


The bitter irony is, of course, the ‘in your face’ part. The arrests took place a day after Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, had met President Erdoğan and, the morning after EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn stated ‘progress’ in talks at a press conference joined by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and EU Minister Ömer Çelik.

Stoltenberg had after his talks with Erdoğan said that “A strong and democratic Turkey is essential for the stability and security of Europe and the region.”

Mogherini had told that Brussels would continue moving ahead with Ankara on visa-free travel and an upgraded customs union, a major bargaining chip in the EU and Turkey’s negotiations for a refugee deal. Hahn added he believed a solution to the issue of visa-free travel was possible. The EU held out on liberalizing visa restrictions, citing the ongoing crackdown.


But, on the same day the EU officials met the press, a top figure with the AKP, Bülent Turan, was busy challenging the critique which comes from the Turkish opposition and Western media that the ongoing witch-hunt was unacceptable.

‘Demands on stopping the witch hunt means support for FETO” he said. Why should we stop the hunt, just because one calls it wich hunt?’ he said.

At the time of the writing my blog, there was not a single word uttered by any top official of the EU, neither of NATO, nor the USA.

Everything put in a larger political context only in a matter of two-three days in Turkey is enough to see how deeply humiliated and ridiculed the top western politicians have become.

The underlying message, delivered by Ankara, is clear:

‘You deal with realpolitik, and stick to a dirty horsetrade on visa freedom versus keeping down the refugees. And don’t rock the boat with your concerns on basic human rights. Don’t ever interfere with our domestic dealings with the opposition and, when it comes to Turkey, you must learn to forget your so-called EU values.’

And, when you look deeply into this reality show, it is very clear who is the winner and who is the loser in this arm-wrestling.

The latest arrests of Ahmet and Mehmet Altan, therefore, makes the question inevitable:

‘Since you find pretending useful that most is a rosegarden in Turkey, where in fact most is defined by violation of fundamental rights and happens under the absence of the rule of law, is it not not high time that the EU also begins negotiations with Belarus?’

Yes, why not?

Seriously, there are now more and more people wondering, what on earth are the EU officials up to, in their dealings with the arbitrary government of Turkey.

One thing is clear: the EU is digging its own grave, to be buried foerever with all the values that no longer have any meaning.

Ask a Turkish intellectual, or any oppressed Kurd in Turkey, and pay attention to the answer you will receive.

It is time that Mogherini and EU’s all top figures wake up from Polyanna’s dream world and develop a bold, efficient, principled road map for relations with Turkey.


About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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